Tag Archives: health sexism

Healthcare gender bias

I’ve written about this subject before but it still floors me when I read about the experience of women within the health-care system and the readiness of Consultants to attribute women’s symptoms to emotional or psychological factors.  I know some men, particularly those with M.E., who have had their symptoms put down to mental health issues but on the whole they are ten times more likely to be given a biological diagnosis and I haven’t heard of a man yet whose physical ill-health has been put down to hysteria or issues with their penis (I have heard, however, of women who have been told their womb is to blame!).

A friend posted a link to an excellent article on the CNN website about POTS which states that 80% of sufferers are women, a statistic which is largely mirrored in co-morbid conditions like hEDS, M.E., MCAS and auto-immune disorders such as Lupus.  The largest survey on POTS to date found that 75% of female patients were initially told their symptoms were psychological and a quarter of those were treated for mental health conditions they didn’t have.

What shocked me to the core in the article, however, was the testimony of female sufferers.  One was told by her Cardiologist “it’s a women’s thing” and her symptoms were all in her head (what fucking century are we living in?).  Another that “you’re just doing this because you’re 31 and don’t have babies yet”.  Would a man ever be told he was fainting every time he stood up because he was 31 and not yet a Dad?  Hell no!

Like many of us, the answer to their perplexing symptoms was found by the patients themselves who turned to Doctor Google.  If we non-medics can find the answer online just by typing our symptoms into a search box why can’t trained medical professionals?  It’s because, on the whole, they’re not looking for physical reasons.  We’re women, nothing is showing up on standard blood tests, therefore we’re making it up to gain attention because we’re lonely and hysterical.  It makes me LIVID.

I was talking to my best mate the other week and she was saying that she takes her partner in to medical appointments with her because she is taken more seriously if accompanied by a man.  She just has to grit her teeth when the Doctor speaks to him and not to her as the 42 year old degree educated fully qualified Civil Engineer patient.

Where has this bias come from?  I’m sure if I researched it there would be all sorts of conclusions drawn by people much cleverer than me, but I believe it’s simply that men and women are different and, because men have ruled the world since time immemorial they think that everyone should be like them, and if you’re not like them you’re somehow wrong, inferior or bonkers.  I’ll never forget watching a documentary about a trans-gender man who transitioned into a woman.  He naturally had to take female hormones and spent 3 months crying at the drop of a hat.  He said he had no idea that women go around feeling this emotionally raw every day of their lives and he hadn’t even experienced periods, the menopause or pregnancy!

Women’s hormones, on the whole, make us more emotional than men – it’s just a fact of life.  We are not mental or hysterical, we’re just more emotionally expressive than the other sex.  It’s normal, men need to fucking get over it and women need to stop apologising for it.  Do you hear that ladies?  We need to STOP apologising for it!

Britain had a famous female Prime Minister who only rose to the stop of the political ladder by acting more like a man than any of the men and this seems to be the case for many successful females.  But we’re not men!  We’re women and we should be allowed to act like women, hormones, emotions and all.  And if we are more prone to certain diseases because of our gender then that needs to be researched.  FFS we make up more than half the world’s population yet diseases which predominantly affect us are almost totally ignored.

Women’s issues across the board are ignored.  When I first started peri-menopause 6 years ago I went to see my female GP who told me it would all be over with in 2 years because that’s what she’d been taught in medical school by, I assume, male professors.  You only have to spend 3 seconds on Google to know this is bullshit and not born out by the experience of most women, yet the myth is still being perpetuated in medical school because researchers can’t be bothered to look at the reality.  Periods, pregnancy and menopause are natural after all and we women need to stop whining about it.  How I’d love a man to pass a bowling ball through his arse and then tell me it’s natural and he needs to stop whining, even though his backside has been torn to bits to the point where sitting down is torture and he poos every time he sneezes for the rest of his life.

As you can probably tell, the appalling way women’s health is often viewed within the medical profession makes my blood boil yet my whole life I have not challenged it.  I’ve come out of medical appointments and cried at the way I’ve been treated yet I have said nothing and done nothing.  This has to stop.  We need to speak up.  We need to complain about our treatment.  We need to confront sexism.  But more importantly we need to stop apologising for being female and having different experiences to men.



Health-care sexism

Jen Brea, creator of the M.E. docu-film Unrest, had an article published in the Boston Globe recently which talked about the bias women face in the health-care system.  About how auto-immune diseases, which predominantly (but not exclusively) affect women, attract the least funding of virtually any illness on the planet and about how women are much more likely to be told their symptoms are ‘all in their head’ compared to men.

Her article was shared on Facebook and attracted comments which said she was “dividing the M.E. community” to weaken our collective voice, that it is not a men v women issue and that such rhetoric isolates men.  These comments miss the point entirely.

Jen is not saying that M.E. doesn’t affect men, or that men are never told their symptoms are psychological, but the truth is that around 80% of M.E. sufferers (and auto-immune diseases in general)  are women and that women are historically less likely than men to be taken seriously within the health care system.  It’s just a fact, like the sky is blue, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Funnily enough, I was talking to my Mum yesterday before I read Jen’s article about the different way she is treated compared to my Dad.  Last year they were both asked for routine urine samples and both contained blood.  My Dad was immediately put on antibiotics.  My Mum received no treatment whatsoever.  What the hell is that all about?!

My Mum has severe and progressive COPD, is missing half a lung and has Emphysemia yet was dismissed from the lung clinic 4 years ago.  They were so gobsmacked about that when she was in hospital recently with her Guillain Barre the consultant immediately re-admitted her to the lung clinic so that her lungs could be monitored.  My Dad, OTOH, who has never spent a single day in hospital in his entire life and who is fit as a Mally Bull has recently had some moderate leg pain and weakness.  Within a month he’d had a Doppler scan, an MRI scan, a full blood work up which is being repeated in 3 months time and already has an appointment for physiotherapy and a referral to the spinal team.  Which is great, but it’s not like he’s going to die from a bad back…….unlike my Mum who is absolutely dying from heart failure, kidney failure and lung disease yet is not even being monitored let alone treated.

Baldness in men receives six times more research funding than M.E.. The fact that vain men are losing their hair and might not look at pretty as they did in the twenties is six times more important to our health authorities than the fact that millions of (predominantly) women all over the world are bedridden or in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives.  Are we not even supposed to discuss this?  And if not, why not?

When I’ve discussed the inequality of women here on my blog I’ve had comments from other women saying it’s not as bad as I make it out to be because they haven’t experienced it. Good for them that they are middle class, educated and living in America.  Not poor and living in the Yemen or Saudi Arabia, or having their clitoris cut off because of their religious beliefs, or working in the same job as a man at the BBC yet being paid 1/3 less than him, or being raped because they want to work in the film industry, or being paid 7 years less health insurance because they were born with a vagina and not a penis.

That anyone would criticize Jen for merely stating a fact gobsmacks me.  That the criticism would come from women appalls me.  Jen is not denigrating men or dismissing their experience, she is standing up for women and she should.  We all should.